Arsenal face another considerable test of their resolve as they take on Europa League hopefuls Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium, a venue where they have endured many afternoons to forget in recent years.
It took a while for them to make the extra man count, but Stoke eventually saw off Norwich City in commanding fashion on Wednesday to move up to seventh in the Premier League table and very much in the race for a European spot, which if gained would be an achievement well within the capabilities of what is a very talented squad. The strength in depth available to Mark Hughes has been emphasised in recent weeks by striker Joselu, who has twice come off the bench to score vital goals.
The visitors have shown of late that they can be vulnerable to clever runs in behind by opposition forwards, so this encounter will provide another chance for Marko Arnautovic to ghost in and make the most of the incisive passing of Bojan Krkic. The Potters are unlikely to have the majority of the possession here, but have proved on several occasions already this term that they can compensate by playing some tidy attacking football and remaining tight at the back, so will be tough to beat as ever.
They never seem to have too many problems in seeing off Stoke at home, but Arsenal have always found the going tough here and have won just the once in eight previous visits in league and cup, which is something that they will hope will not play on their minds on Sunday. They come into it having suffered the frustration of losing their two-point lead at the top following the concession of a 90th minute equaliser at Liverpool in midweek, depriving them of a win which would have put them in a commanding position.
But for all of that, it was something of a sensation that the Gunners managed to emerge from the opening 25 minutes of that clash level at 2-2, having come under immense pressure from the start and been afforded very little time and space on the ball. Joel Campbell worked hard and showed great technique throughout, but the star man was Olivier Giroud, who was almost unplayable as the loan striker and will be part of this game’s key battle with Ryan Shawcross and Philipp Wollscheid.
Phil Bardsley and Stephen Ireland are both back from injury for Stoke, who are still unable to call upon Xherdan Shaqiri and Geoff Cameron due to hamstring and ankle problems respectively.
There could be a return to the Arsenal fold for Alexis Sanchez, who is being considered for a place on the bench by manager Arsene Wenger. New signing Mohamed Elneny will not feature.
Last Meeting: Arsenal were made to pay for a terrible first half display as they suffered a 3-2 defeat in December 2014, where they went behind inside the first minute when Peter Crouch turned the ball in. The deficit rose to three by half-time as Bojan Krkic and Jonathan Walters both netted, and despite a strong second half fightback which saw Santi Cazorla score a penalty and Aaron Ramsey volley home, the visitors went home with nothing. To make things worse, Calum Chambers was sent off late on.
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